Another long drive day, but eased by our finally seeing some serious terrain! Mountains, we’ve missed you.
We headed north out of Spearfish on some semi-back roads to approach Devil’s Tower from the north. This was Davista’s first real mountain driving. I say it was hers, not mine, because driving it isn’t difficult, but you can hear and see that she’s straining. We had finally gotten around to weighing her officially at a truck stop back in South Dakota (we’d done it in Maryland without her being fully loaded just to get a sense of how much more weight we’d be able to carry and where to load it), and were relieved to see that we were legal, at least in Winnebago/Ford’s eyes. But just. Essentially I don’t think there’s a way to do this type of endeavor in this kind of rig without pushing your max weight pretty much constantly. It’s far more airplane-like than car-like to be continually considering your weight, weight distribution, and upcoming demands on the equipment, and then adjusting your water and fuel tank levels, etc in order to compensate. Really, other than the weight shifting/shedding, the only recourse if we get into a really tough stretch is to pull over, disconnect the TOAD, and have Tacco drive it behind us while we manage the steep grades.
All that to say that she did fine, but I found that several stretches had her shifting all the way down to 2nd gear and gutting it out at 4000-4500 RPM and 40 miles per hour, with the pedal floored. I’m trying to decide whether I’m glad or foolish that I don’t have a transmission temperature gauge.
Devil’s Tower though. Visually, it always impresses, even if it’s just a hunk of rock. We hung out at the area below the base and had lunch & checked out the gift store, then drove into the park to check out the actual rocks from up at the actual base, but were told immediately at the gate that there was no more room for RVs, so if we’d like to go up we’d have to park in the trailer area below and hike up. *sigh* So I guess we’re those people. We decided not so much on the hiking despite Woodsprite’s insistence that she wanted to go up there. We knew that her enthusiasm would last for about 1/10th of the hike and there wasn’t a ton of reward to be had up at the top, so we made it a photo op instead.
I got a kick out of Tacco asking me whether there had been UFO sightings there, as there were all sorts of “alien” tchotchkes in the store for sale. I explained energetically that it was all about Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but immediately noted in her expression that that movie hadn’t made nearly the impression on her as it had on me, which led further to a realization that the four years that separate us is enough to create a generation gap of sorts. i.e. I’m “the old guy” who vividly remembers Richard Dreyfuss carving the Devil’s Tower shape into his mashed potatoes, while she was pretty much just a young kid doing young kid things. *sigh again*
The remainder of the drive took us to Sheridan, WY, right at the base of the Bighorn mountains and just south of the border with Montana. And here we hit our first truly substandard overnight situation. At a KOA, no less, where we generally pay more than we do at the other campgrounds. In fairness, it wasn’t really the KOA’s fault, but it sits right at the edge of a busy road upon which there’s all night construction, which is both noisy and dusty. It’s wide open, not a tree to be found, and with dirt roads and sharp rocks, so not a good place for the kids to ride their bikes either, which has turned out to be the first thing they want to do when we stop, every time. I like that. At any rate, we shared the campground with only about a dozen other campers, spread way around the dusty site. No matter though, it was only a one night stop, with a push on to Bozeman (hopefully) in the morning, and a short drive to Grand Targhee for the real fun the following day. We did sleep well.